Mikel Arteta surprised everybody by starting Gabriel against Fulham and leaving William Saliba out of the squad entirely, so will Saliba play against West Ham?

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 08: of Arsenal during a training session at London Colney on September 08, 2020 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
ST ALBANS, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 08: of Arsenal during a training session at London Colney on September 08, 2020 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

If you had asked any Arsenal fan before their game against Fulham on Saturday who was more likely to play out of William Saliba or Gabriel, nearly all would have picked Saliba to stand in for the injured Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, Sokratis and Calum Chambers.

Arteta surprised everybody by picking Gabriel and he, in turn, surprised everybody by being quite excellent and scoring a goal, despite not playing any competitive football for six months.

None of that, however, explains where Saliba went or why Arsenal only had one defender on the bench in Sead Kolasinac (two if you count Buayo Saka, but that’s a stretch).

Arteta was asked about Saliba after the game.

“I think it’s going to take him [Saliba] some time to adapt to our way of playing but as well to get adapted to the language, the rhythm, the physicality of the country,” Areta said.

“As well we have to bear in mind that he didn’t play much football last season with all the injuries he had.

Arsenal's Brazilian defender Gabriel (2L) celebrates with team-mates after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Fulham and Arsenal at Craven Cottage in London on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / POOL / AFP)
Arsenal’s Brazilian defender Gabriel (2L) celebrates with team-mates after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Fulham and Arsenal at Craven Cottage in London on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / POOL / AFP)

“So, I think it will be a process that we have to be patient, picking the right games with the right environment and trying to grow because he [Saliba] has a really good potential.

“Everyone was saying that we had too many central defenders and it’s a funny case right now that it’s the position we are short at the moment with all the injuries.

“But I’m hopeful in the next few weeks that situation will resolve and we’ll be in a stronger position.”

Those are no doubt comments we expected to hear more about Gabriel than Saliba but we must remember that, despite expectations, Saliba is still only a teenager.

Given that Arteta said it will “take him some time to adapt to our way of playing but as well to get adapted to the language, the rhythm, the physicality of the country,” I don’t think we can expect to see him playing against the Hammers at the weekend.

Then again, stranger things have happened. Like Gabriel starting at Fulham!